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Is Sense And Sensibility An Unromantic Novel English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1867 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Within this essay, I shall examine the concept of Romanticism and also I shall assess Jane Austen’s contribution to the Romantic genre. In doing so, I can begin answering the posed question, ‘Is Sense and Sensibility an unromantic novel?’ Romanticism itself as a genre began between 1785 and 1825 and was perceived as an age which rejected the ideas of the Enlightenment and Romanticism has been described as a ‘Counter-Enlightenment’. It was an age that was ‘…a crucial transition between an Enlightenment world view and the values of modern, industrial society…’ [1] whereby its roots stem from the French Revolution of 1789 and the message of revolution and reform. Romanticism revolted against scientific rationalisation and reason that led the Enlightenment movement and embraced antiquity, aesthetics and emotion which are reflected in the works of many Romantic authors such as Wordsworth, Coleridge and Keats.

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Romanticism placed an emphasis on symbolism, nature and the imagination. Imagination in particular, played a large part within the genre. The imagination allowed one to distance them self from reality and indulge in antiquity, landscapes and relationships. In doing so, poets like Blake were able to create works that highlighted society from a child’s and an adults point of view. By doing this, Blake was able to acknowledge the innocence and imagination of a child, thus paralleling it with the adults view, and how they have effectively lost that sense of freedom.

However, some critics have debated the definition of Romanticism and what Romanticism stands for. Welleck and Lovejoy both argue that, ‘…Romanticism (whether “intrinsic” or “historical”) comprised a vast and heterogeneous body of material…’ [2] Romanticism is a collection of many pieces that are not necessarily similar or the same. According to Lovejoy, there are a ‘…plurality of romanticisms…’ [3] which is evidently seen through its evolution by poets and novelists alike. Moreover, Welleck discusses that ‘…scholars and critics all basically agree on what Romanticism is or was… [However]…they may differ in their definitional terms…’ [4] and that the terms “Romantic” and “Romanticism” are interchangeable and have been ‘…understood in approximately the same sense….’ [5] regarding works that were written after the neoclassical period.

Austen herself included many of the qualities found in the Romantic era within her novels, Pride and Prejudice, Emma and Sense and Sensibility to name a few. Jane Austen was born in December 1775 and died in July 1917. She was one of eight children and her father was ‘…a good-natured clergyman…’ [6] Austen instilled much of the values expected of women in society at the time of writing into her novels. Austen’s writing ‘…reflected actions that benefited the society. Duty was paramount, as were Christian ethics. Marriage and family were serious undertakings.’ [7] The reader is also subjected to these values within ‘Sense and Sensibility’ as there are four marriages that take place within the text, which solidifies how important the institutions of marriage and family are to women of this period. They were particularly important to establish concrete social order and values within British society after the French Revolution. Austen wrote about the society that she knew. ‘Surviving letters show the 20-year-old Jane enjoyed the usual interests of a young woman: clothes, men and dancing at balls.’ [8] By writing about the world she had known, Jane was able to describe scenes in her novels with the utmost attention and detail. Sir Walter Scott also commented upon this and wrote ‘that young lady has a talent for describing the involvements and feelings and characters of ordinary life, which is to me the most wonderful I ever met with.’ [9] This intimate language allows the reader to engage with Austen’s characters and also begin to understand Eighteenth Century England’s’ societal values and expectations of women.

Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811 but was originally written around 1795 under the title of ‘Elinor and Marianne’ and had been written firstly in an epistolary form, which usually is a novel collated with letters. Furthermore, Austen did not give her name to the book, nor did she leave it anonymous, but it was titled, Sense and Sensibility by ‘A Lady’. By stating that it was written by a lady rather than leaving it anonymous, the reader automatically knows that the text was of female authorship, which was not common.

The text itself revolves around the Dashwood Family, in particular the Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne. Elinor within the novel represents ‘sense’ whilst her sister Marianne with her impulsiveness represents ‘sensibility’. The reader follows the sisters and their family on a path of discovery and relationships. At the end of the novel, we eventually see Elinor and Marianne become neutral between both ‘sense’ and ‘sensibility’ rather than being two extremes like the beginning of the text. However, it is how the sisters emerge as more well-rounded women that we are able to investigate if Sense and Sensibility is truly an unromantic novel, or does Austen as a woman, have a different view of Romanticism and the canon established by the earlier Romantic Poets. By investigating the title further, it can be described as a novel that deals with the shift from the Enlightenment and the formation of a modern society.

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‘Sense’ can be construed as rationality which was debated by Philosophers such as Hume and Locke. Rationality and understanding had become effectively the canon of the Enlightenment era and reflects Elinor’s judgement and emotions. ‘Sensibility’ however, according to the Oxford Dictionary, defines ‘Sensibility’ as; ‘the quality of being able to appreciate and respond to complex emotional or aesthetic influences.’ [10] This sensitivity is shown within Marianne’s persona, especially in regards to her relationship with John Willoughby. Austen encapsulates the idea of sensibility through Marianne and satires the idea of the ‘Cult of Sensibility’. The ‘Cult of Sensibility’ began in the Eighteenth Century with ‘…an optimistic view on human nature…’ [11] which contributed to the establishment of the Romantic age and the sentimental novel. According to Inger Sigrun Brodey, Austen ‘tried to revise…[sensibility]… to accord with a sense of individual responsibility, an admiration of tranquility, and the possibility of community, all of which tended to be absent from its cultish extremes’ [12] which is self-evident within Sense and Sensibility.

Sense and Sensibility as a novel can be seen as unromantic in two distinctive ways. One can ascertain that this novel is unromantic due to how love and relationships are portrayed within the plot and also how Austen incorporates many values and ideas from the enlightened period. Within Sense and Sensibility, Austen depicts how important marriage is and the sanctity of marriage but also highlights how marriage is important within the class structure and economic stability for women of this period. In chapter two, John Dashwood’s wife Fanny discusses with her husband that he need not be a beneficiary to his half-sisters due to it being ‘…well known that no affection was ever supposed to exist between the children of any man by different marriages…’ [13] and that these women ‘…will marry, and…[the money]… will be gone for ever. If, indeed, it could ever be restored to our poor little boy.’ [14] This statement made by Fanny, exasperates the values of this period in time and also of this social order.

According to Phillip Jennings, ‘love and marriage were a societal and economic concern, and, therefore, not immune to the period’s conventions and machinations.’ [15] This view is indeed reflected within many of Austen’s novels, not just Sense and Sensibility. Marianne Dashwood through Sense and Sensibility is seen as a heroine on a quest for love, does not fulfil a marriage of love, but rather a marriage of convenience with Colonel Brandon. Marianne had previously rendered Brandon as too old as a suitor but Austen in the final pages of Sense and Sensibility acknowledges that Marianne was ‘…born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions…’ [16] By declaring that Marianne’s opinions were false in regards to marriage and love, Austen in turn is solidifying the perception that marrying for money rather than love is a sensible thing to do. She furthers this belief by telling the audience that, ‘Marianne could never love by halves, and her whole heart became, in time…devoted to her husband.’ [17] 


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